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That iconic Whataburger photo and one tragic story behind it

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Posted at 4:03 PM, May 24, 2023

It could have easily been a Norman Rockwell painting.

Nothing says summer in Corpus Christi in the 1950s like a Little League baseball team celebrating a victory at Whataburger. That classic photo that hangs in virtually every one of Whataburger’s 880 restaurants in the U.S.

I know that when I first became conscious of the photo in the late 1960s, I thought it was possibly my own Little League team. I played for Southside Little League Hawks at Price Field on Gollihar from 1959 through 1962. We sometimes went down the street to the Gollihar/Kostoryz Whataburger after games and sat up on that very rail, watching our burgers being made.

I was disappointed when I learned that the photo was taken in the summer of 1956, and the team was the Athletics of the American Little League. They played their games at Williams Field, on Ayers at Holly. I’ve never been able to confirm it, but I believe that the photo was taken at the Gollihar Whataburger, which was the nearest Whataburger to the league’s field.

Players came from Fannin, Central Park, Lexington, Carroll Lane, and Sam Houston elementary schools and Baker J.H. The classic photo actually has a classic title: “It’s Not Whether You Win or Lose, It’s Where You Eat After the Game That’s Important.”

And, win or lose, because Whataburger was the team’s sponsor, the boys were treated to free Whataburgers after every game!

That alone would be a winning season in my book!

It’s interesting that the exact date that the photo was taken seems to be lost. And it’s not known whether the Athletics won or lost their game that day.

Also…..while most of us have seen the photo with the players facing away from the camera, I would guess that very few have seen the companion photo taken that day with the players facing the camera.

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For the most part, their names are known.

According to a Facebook post in 2013, #6 Howard Henslee (far left, behind the pole in the photo) identified the players the players on the team and in the famous photo. They include #7 Frank Thomas, #8 Clifford Johnson, #11 Ray Dulak, #14 Dale Whitehill, #9 Tommy Mattke, and #5 Johnny Simpson. Mr. Henslee does not identify #2 and #13 nor another player hidden behind the pole on the left but says that other team members are Gene Hall, John Teter, Gene Gibson, John Fritsche, Pat Foster, Gene Myers, and Eldon Young.

That puts 14 boys on the team, but only 10 are shown in the photo.

Howard Henslee identifies Tommy Mattke’s Dad as the team’s Coach on the far right, but he does not identify the Assistant Coach seen on the left in the front-facing photo. (If there is anyone out there who can fill in the names of the Assistant Coach and of those 3 unidentified boys…..#2, #13, and the other boy behind the pole…..please do so).

Four of the players in the photo were recognized in a special ceremony at Whataburger Field on August 4, 2010.

Frank Thomas #7, Howard Henslee #6, John Simpson #5, and Cliff Johnson #8, then all in their 60’s, were honored with a plaque of the iconic photo and allowed to throw out the first pitch of the Hooks game.

Special recognition was also given that day to Raymond Dulak, #11 in the photo.

Ray Dulak was born on Christmas Day 1943 in Louisville, Kentucky. His family moved to Corpus when Ray was one year old. He attended Christ the King elementary school and graduated in 1962 from Corpus Christi Academy.

Ray was a gifted baseball player…..a player that everyone thought would make it into the major leagues someday.

From his days in Little League on the Whataburger Athletics to his college days playing for the University of Texas, Ray was an all-star player. He was a four-year letterman in both basketball and baseball at the Academy.

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In 1962, he led the CC Academy Cavaliers to the state Class 2A Catholic baseball championship and was named to the All-state team. Ray was the team’s number-one pitcher, but he also led the team in batting.

In July 1962, Ray Dulak was awarded a full baseball scholarship to U-T.

He had been a superb pitcher throughout his baseball career, but at Texas, he started at first base and later moved to the outfield to fully exploit his superior batting skills. Dulak helped lead U-T to the SWC championship and to the College World Series in 1963, 1965, and 1966.

There was little doubt that Dulak was destined to play in the major leagues. However, as we all know, there was a war in Vietnam going on at the time.

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Raymond Dulak decided to put his professional baseball aspirations aside to serve his country. As far as I know, Ray Dulak joined the Army Reserve and attended Officer Candidate School. He entered the Army with the rank of lieutenant and quickly rose to the rank of Captain. He trained to be a helicopter pilot, and was deployed to Vietnam in March of 1969.

It was in Vietnam that this talented baseball player in the iconic Whataburger photo would lose his life at the age of 26.

His final mission would take place on May 12, 1970. He was piloting a UH-1H Huey helicopter carrying Major General John A.B. Dillard and nine others near the city of Pleiku when the aircraft was shot down by enemy fire. Ten of the eleven on board the helicopter were killed.

MGen. Dillard was head of the Army’s Engineering Command in Vietnam. Also killed was Colonel Carroll Adams, head of the 937th Engineer Group, who was promoted posthumously to Brigadier General.

Captain Dulak’s body was returned to Corpus Christi and he was buried at Seaside Cemetery with full military honors, including a flyover of three Huey helicopters from The Naval Air Station.

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Over 40 years after his death, Raymond Dulak’s sacrifice was still remembered by the citizens of Corpus Christi. A petition was presented to the City Council in 2012 requesting that the new baseball park on Paul Jones Avenue be named in his honor.

On March 20, 2012, the Council approved a resolution to name the ballpark the “Raymond R. Dulak, Jr. Ballfield”.

We’ll never know if he would have become a star in Major League Baseball but Raymond Dulak will always be remembered in that famous Whataburger photograph.

Addendum: Mr. Frank Thomas (#7 in the photo) has informed me that Mr. Mattke was the Assistant Coach. The Head Coach (seen on the left side of the forward facing photo of the team) was Mr. Don Anthony.

Robert Parks is a special contributor to KRIS 6 News. Parks was a history teacher at Carroll High School for 19 years and is now retired. His knowledge of Corpus Christi history makes him a unique expert in the subject.